That attempt was made Tuesday when Chamber of Commerce and school officials arranged a meeting attended by such political heavy-hitters as Attorney General Sam Olens, County Chairman Tim Lee and former Gov. Roy Barnes.
But school officials would not be swayed.
To Lee’s great disappointment, the Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to reject a settlement offer put on the table by the Development Authority of Cobb County. The school board countered by requesting the Authority withdraw applications for a bond deal that would allow moving forward with the tax breaks offered to a development backed by real estate mogul John Williams.
The private meeting
Lee said Chamber CEO David Connell invited him to attend a private meeting Tuesday morning in the conference room of one of the Galleria office buildings. Present at that meeting were Olens, Barnes, Williams’ consultant Tad Leithead, Connell, Brooks Mathis, the chamber’s executive vice president of economic development; Development Authority Chairman Clark Hungerford; Cobb Superintendent Michael Hinojosa; Cobb Board of Education Chairwoman Kathleen Angelucci, Vice Chairman Randy Scamihorn; State Sen. Lindsey
Tippins (R-west Cobb) and school board attorney Clem Doyle.
Lee said he accepted Connell’s invitation so he could better understand the school board’s objection to the tax breaks granted by the Development Authority.
Lee said he agreed with the comment Olens made at the meeting that the school board was on a path that would harm future economic development efforts.
“If companies are looking at Cobb, and there’s any kind of uncertainty surrounding our process, it’s easy to skip over us and go to some place where there is certainty, so we’ll lose out on those opportunities,” Lee said.
Olens could not be reached for comment about why he attended the private meeting.
State Rep. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) has announced a member of the Cobb Legislative Delegation will be filing legislation this session to reform the Development Authority. Golick says he wants to consider two points. One is to require the elected commissioners to have the final say on whatever tax break the unelected Development Authority grants a business. The other point is that if the Development Authority is going to decide on giving away millions of dollars earmarked for education to developers in the form of tax breaks, the school district should have a say in the matter.
The MDJ asked Lee how Cobb’s economic development opportunities would be jeopardized if the state legislation made the same requirements for neighboring counties such as Fulton and Gwinnett.
“It would put Georgia at a disadvantage with places like Birmingham,” Lee said of Golick’s proposal.
Gov. Nathan Deal apparently doesn’t have the desire for legislation reforming development authorities either.
“I have not talked to the governor, but from what I’ve been told, there is no appetite on the state level to deal with any revisions to the development authority legislation,” Lee said.
School board disappoints Tim Lee
Lee said he was highly disappointed the school board rejected the settlement offer from Hungerford.
“Very much so because the best way to solve issues is sitting around the table and discussing our differences and coming up with viable options and that hasn’t occurred aggressively,” Lee said.
The development, coined Riverwalk, includes 236 for-lease condos, 14 three-story townhome apartments and a 10-story office tower.
The Development Authority offered Riverwalk a 10-year graduated property tax abatement though the project didn’t meet the county’s requirement to qualify. That includes creating 25 jobs and a $500,000 economic impact.
School Board attorney Clem Doyle said in a letter Wednesday to the Development Authority that resolution will now have to be in court unless the Authority withdraws the request.
Resolution is now “entirely in the hands of the Development Authority of Cobb County and Riverview Office LLC” and withdrawing their bond validation request would allow parties to “step back and have a discussion about the issue of funding tax abatements with school taxes and the extent to which the school board should be excluded from that process,” Doyle wrote in the letter.
The school board’s suggestions follow an offer extended by the Development Authority last week that would provide $139,299 in property taxes during the three-year construction phase of the development.
Usually, developers receiving tax abatements are not required to pay any taxes, even those assessed the raw land, while construction is ongoing.
Judge to hear arguments this morning
Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge Michael Stoddard will hear arguments from the Development Authority and the school board today at 10:30 a.m. in Courtroom 2000. That hearing has been continued three times.
Doyle’s letter suggested that if the bond validation is not withdrawn, the county should develop and approve a tax abatement policy subject to approval by the Development Authority and the school board.
That policy, Doyle said, “should include a process that incorporates a reasonable and objective analysis of the costs (including the abatement) and benefits of each future project.”
The policy should take into account the number of jobs created, average pay for those jobs, value of real and person property, sales tax generated, increase in the level of services required by the county and the impact a company or development would have on the